Spain is more than just a single place - it's an amalgamation of diverse regions, each with their own unique cultures, languages, and traditions. And like many places, Spain's cultural diversity is rooted in its history.
The country is made up of 17 autonomous communities and two autonomous cities, each of which has its own distinct culture, traditions, and sometimes even language. For instance, Catalonia, Basque Country, and Galicia have their own regional languages—Catalan, Basque, and Galician, respectively—that are co-official with Spanish, the country's official language.
In a nutshell, one should never make the mistake of assuming all Spaniards are the same. That said, navigating through the different regions in Spain can be a delightful journey, especially if you're equipped with the right knowledge and understanding of Spanish etiquette.
Electric plugs in Spain are type C, also referred to as Euro-plugs, with two round pins which goi into two round holes in the wall. It is the same plug used in most European countries (excludingthe UK).
Spain is known for its “siesta”, and it is still customary for small, individual shops to close for a couple of hours during lunch hours. Luckily, you see it less and less, especially in bigger cities and touristy places, and the shopping malls stay open all day.
However, in small towns and non-touristy cities, you will find that everything is closed between 13:30 and 16:30 (give or take), and the streets are often dead as everyone is inside eating lunch.
Toilets in Spain are free to use in restaurants and bars. In some places, it is marked “customers only”, but if you ask nicely, they usually let you use it if you walk by. If the restaurant is busy, just walk straight in and use them.
Legally, they cannot deny you to use the toilet, yet some places do. These are often more upscale places, but local pubs and bars are usually more at ease.
In many places in Spain, the water drains are bad and will clog if you throw toilet paper inside the toilet. Most restaurants and bars will write a note on the wall/door letting you know that you cannot throw paper inside the toilet. However, it is often only written in Spanish. So if there is a rubbish bin next to the toilet, you might as well use it.
We recommend always bringing a pack of Kleenex and a small soap or hand santizer when using public toilets, including in bars and restaurants in Spain. It is normal to find toilets without paper and soap, and it is not a priority unless you are in a fancy restaurant.
Smoking inside hotels, restaurants, bars, and shops is not allowed in Spain, including outdoor spaces like playgrounds and in front of hospitals. However, you can smoke on terraces of hotels, restaurants, and bars unless otherwise stated. Larger hotels can leave 30% of their rooms for smokers.
Most hotels, restaurants, cafés, and bars have free wifi for customers, though sometimes you must ask for the Wifi password.
It can be a good idea to get a Spanish sim card with mobile data on it for when you are in places with no Wifi connection. They can be purchased at the airport, in mobile phone stores, Tobacco shops, book shops, or kiosks.
Most Spanish use WhatsApp for messaging, also when it comes to accommodation etc., so it can be handy to have the app.
The morning in Spain generally starts later than in other countries and cafés often don’t open until 9:00 or 10:00. Breakfast is usually served until around 11:00, and some places until noon.
Lunch is usually served between 13:30 and 16:30 (give or take) and if you come early or late, the kitchen will be closed. If you are used to having lunch earlier, make sure you have some snacks in your bag.
The Spanish have their dinner late, often at 22:00 or later, but you will find restaurants open for dinner from 20:00. You might find them quite empty that early unless you are in a very touristy area with many foreigners.
Tap water in Spain is generally safe to drink, but can sometimes taste bad. This can differ greatly within a city. Generally, they use a lot of chemicals in the tap water in Spain, so a water purifier might make it taste better.
Public fountains are marked “no potable” if it is not drinkable. If you see the sign “agua potable” it means the water is treated and safe to drink. Obvious drinking fountains are safe to drink from.
The age limit for buying and drinking alcohol, including spirits, in Spain is 18. Alcohol is generally easy to get hold of all day long in restaurants, bars, gas stations, and supermarkets.
In some cities in Spain, drinking alcohol in public places like the streets and on the beach is not allowed, and fines are given to those breaking the rules. Other places, on the contrary, let you drink on the beach. It is common for people to bring cold beers on the beach in the summer, and you might see people walking along the beach selling them.
If you see locals drinking in a public place, it's probably okay, but you can always ask at your hotel to be completely sure.
There are a few rules of conduct that will get you a long way in Spain as a tourist. We have listed the most important ones here:
Do not wear swimwear in beach bars, restaurants, shops, and generally outside the beach. Put a top and shorts on.
People usually greet each other with a kiss on each cheek
It is not expected to leave a tip, however, you can round up the amount when paying in cash in restaurants, bars, and on taxi rides and tell them to keep the change
In shops, prices are fixed. You can bargain on the price with street sellers and sellers that walk on the beach selling bags, blankets, jewellery, etc.
Don’t expect locals to speak English. Ask nicely. Not all Spanish are comfortable speaking English even though they understand a bit.
Depending on when you go to Spain and where you visit, make sure you are prepared for the weather conditions, whether it is hot by the beach in summer or cold in the mountains in winter (then you will need layers to keep you warm.)
If you want to go hiking in Spain, make sure you bring a good pair of hiking boots, as the trails can be challenging. But even for sightseeing, there are a lot of cobblestoned streets in Spanish cities and towns, so you need a good pair of walking shoes.
In the winter months, be prepared for cold temperatures indoors, especially if you travel to the south, where houses are not prepared for the cold. It can often be colder inside than outside, so don’t be fooled by 20 degrees Celsius on the meter. In winter, you might also walk around in shorts and a t-shirt all day, but as soon as the sun goes down, you need to change to long pants and a jacket.
Hola - Hello
Vale - ok
Gracias - Thank you
Donde está el servicio/water/baño - Where is the toilet
Una cerveza porfavor - A beer please
La cuenta porfavor - The bill, please
Wassa - Whatsapp
Que pasada - how cool/awesome
Guay - cool/awesome
Planning a trip to Spain? Read our Spain travel guides
Last Updated 18 November 2023